Updated: April 10, 2006, 9:20 PM ET

The supreme Staples slingers

The Los Angeles Lakers topped the Los Angeles Clippers 100-83 on Sunday, depriving the Clippers of their first season-series win over the more accomplished glamour-pusses in 13 years.

A casual observer would notice quickly that the Clips' Vladimir Radmanovic is not to be confused with a shutdown defender. Ex-Clipper Lamar Odom got off to a strong start, en route to 23 points and 15 rebounds. Kobe Bryant had his customary 38 points. The Clippers' Big Two, Elton Brand and Sam Cassell, each had 24. And the season series ended in a 2-2 stalemate.

So the Clippers' clear-cut mandate for ruling the city's pro hoops will have to wait until next year: C'est la vie.

They share the Staples Center, but not much else in their franchises' respective history. Actually, despite all the good feeling about L.A. hoops this winter (Kobe's 81, Clips renaissance), they will not have something else in common: a first-round playoff exit.

Here's why. By winning, the Lakers (41-37) kept pace with the Kings and remained tied for the seventh spot. The Lakers have four games left, all at home: Warriors, Blazers, Suns and Hornets. That looks like a 3-1 slate, giving the Lakers a 44-38 finish.

The Kings have three home games among their final four: Phoenix, at Denver, Hornets and Sonics. Looks like a 2-2 mark, good for a 43-39 finish.

So in this scenario the Lakers get the seventh seed and play the Suns in the first round. It seems like they've got a chance, if they get something like Sunday's strong 1-2 punch of Odom and Kobe, with flashes of competence from their teammates. But the Lakers haven't been very competitive in three losses to the Suns. Their April 16 date may give us more of a view of how they match up.

The other Lakers playoff scenario, in which the Kings pass them, would bring the Lakers the Spurs, against whom the have posted a 1-3 record during the regular season. Either way, Suns or Spurs, it's all over for Team Kobe.

The Clippers' aim for a series win has a little more traction. The Clippers (44-32), who have lost four of their last seven games but still lead Memphis by one-half game for fifth place in the West, have a home-and-home with both Dallas and Seattle, home to Portland and at Memphis. That looks like 3-3, good for 47-35.

Memphis has Minnesota, at Charlotte, at Houston, home to the Clippers, at Minnesota. That looks like 4-1 to me. So the Grizz finish 48-34.

This is of course assuming there's not a spate of "injuries" with neither team seeking to somehow avoid the five spot and a date with the Mavs. So it looks like the Clippers will finish No. 6 and earn a date with the No. 3 Nuggets. The Clips hold a 3-1 advantage. The Nuggets are capable of playing with the league's best, but this looks like the Clips' year for a little playoff magic.

Yeah, Clips!

Andrew Ayres, who rolls as Ten Cent, is an NBA editor for ESPN.com

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Winning A Laugher

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Richard Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace share a laugh in their 98-73 blowout win over the Pacers. "At this point, we don't even deserve to be in the playoffs," said the Pacers' Jermaine O'Neal, who was extremely disappointed.


LeBron's Rising MVP Candidacy
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My, how things can change. Less than a month ago, I made an MVP case for Dwyane Wade that I thought was ironclad. I really didn't think there was any way that another player could do so well over the final month that he'd surpass Wade in terms of overall value for the season.

Having watched LeBron James single-handedly end the Nets' 14-game winning streak in the Meadowlands on Saturday, it's obvious that I spoke too soon. From out of nowhere, James has shot himself into the discussion and may very well end up winning the trophy. That's quite a shift, since nobody held James's MVP stock in very high regard over the first half of the season. It appeared the Cavs would end up with a win total in the low 40s and James himself struggled mightily in some late-game situations.

But thanks to a late, LeBron-fueled surge, the Cavs aren't headed for a humdrum 43-39 campaign but rather something much closer to 50 wins -- they'll hit the half-century mark with a 4-2 finish, which would seem well within the club's reach. That's an impressive accomplishment considering Larry Hughes and Anderson Varejao each missed roughly half the season.

Then there are the late-game situations. While James had some struggles earlier in the year, he's been money of late. For instance, Saturday's comeback win over New Jersey included an insane play by LeBron to tie the game in the final minute. With his club down by three, he took a steal and zoomed up court. Three different Nets grabbed his right arm to prevent him from shooting, but James was so strong that he muscled through all of them and put the shot up softly off the board for a basket and foul. Other than Shaq, I can't think of a single other player in the league with the strength to get that ball near the rim, much less convert the shot.

That play was the signature moment in a 37-point, seven-rebound, five-assist performance -- including 18 points in the fourth quarter -- that allowed the Cavs to end the league's longest winning streak even with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas sidelined. It was the latest salvo in an incredibly strong finishing kick that has seen James zoom to the top of the Player Efficiency Rating charts and stake his claim for the MVP trophy.

See the full John Hollinger blog Insider



News And Notes
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• Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said he has no idea when Corey Maggette will return to action. "He literally can't get out of bed," the coach said. "He went to a doctor, a chiropractor, a therapist." ... The Lakers' overall record against the Clippers is 126-43. ... The Clippers made the playoffs while playing in Buffalo in 1974, 1975 and 1976, and again while playing in Los Angeles in 1992, 1993 and 1997. ... Lakers C Chris Mihm sat out his 14th game since spraining his right ankle March 12. ... The Clippers had a franchise-best 49-33 record in the 1974-75 season while playing in Buffalo, and went 46-36 the following season. The 1992-93 team's 45-37 record ranks third. The franchise moved to San Diego in 1978 and to Los Angeles six years later.

• New York's Stephon Marbury missed his fifth straight game due to a strained left patella tendon. Channing Frye (sprained left knee ligament) and Jalen Rose (right knee tendinitis) remained on New York's inactive list.

• Charlotte's Bernard Robinson has a fractured right index finger, joining Emeka Okafor (ankle) and Sean May (knee) on the Bobcats' inactive list.

• The Pacers have played a team-record 31 lineups this season while Detroit had the same lineup for an NBA-record 73 games until the streak was snapped by Rasheed Wallace's one-game suspension last Tuesday.

Dwyane Wade became the first player in Heat history with 2,000 points in a season. He now has 2,007. ... Magic G Carlos Arroyo missed the second half with a strained left hamstring. ... Orlando had a pair of 8-0 runs in the first quarter. ... Derek Anderson's 3-pointer with 7:45 left in the third was Miami's first one at home in its last 16 attempts. ... Shaquille O'Neal's fourth-grade teacher from Fort Stewart, Ga., Annette Swann, 76, saw him play for the first time. "She was one of the first people to believe in me," said O'Neal, who arranged tickets for Swann and her daughter Amy Allyn, plus hotel accommodations and gifts from the Heat store.

• Seattle F Nick Collison had no pain in his left foot after playing in his first game since March 5 on Friday in Portland. Collison had been out after partially tearing his plantar fascia. ... Johan Petro returned sooner than expected from a broken nose. The rookie entered with 5:15 left in the second quarter but wasn't expected to play until Tuesday in San Antonio.

-- The Associated Press


We'll Meet Again

The Nets disposed of their likely first-round opponent, the Bucks, 95-83. Vince Carter had 25 points and Jason Kidd had the 75th triple-double of his career and eighth of the season. He needs four more to pass Wilt Chamberlain for No. 3 on the NBA's career list.

Nets Top Bucks

Hodge Goes Home

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Claudette Saunders of Richmond, Va., holds up a sign for Nuggets rookie guard Julius Hodge during the team's shootaround Saturday. Hodge, shot three times while driving north of downtown Denver early Saturday morning, has left the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.


Extreme Behavior
arenas

Sunday's Best
Knicks guard Jamal Crawford: JC heats up of late, dropping in 31 points in the 101-86 win over Boston, and prevents a season sweep at the hands of an historic rival. Also had 11 boards. Knicks now a half-game ahead of Charlotte and one full game ahead of Portland in the race to avoid the NBA's worst mark.

alston

Sunday's Worst
Rockets guard Rafer Alston: First, the good news: Alston had nine dimes. However, there's something about an 0-for-11 shooting night, along with six turnovers, that's hard to ignore. So is an 86-77 loss to the Kings.

shaq

Quote of the Day
"It's all going to be decided in Game 82. Those six, seven and eight spots are going to be decided on the last day of the year."
-- Magic coach Brian Hill, whose team posted consecutive home wins over the Pistons and Heat, eyeing his 32-44 team's playoff chances.

See how all 192 who played stacked up

The current NBA Playoff matchups



On The Right Track With 'Melo
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Tracey (Los Angeles): I understand Carmelo Anthony is terrific in the clutch and a big-time scorer. But, in your opinion, has he become any better of an all-around player than he was as a rookie? His rebounding numbers have dropped in each of his three seasons, he's had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio in every season, and he's an average defender at best. To me, he's still too one-dimensional to be considered a true superstar.

Ric Bucher: 'Melo has improved overall but he still has more work to do. His rebounding numbers have fallen because Denver, collectively, is a much better rebounding team. I'd like to see a positive assist/TO ratio from him next, but he's learning how to take over games at crucial times and his defense, while still not great, has improved significantly. Overall, I believe he's on the right track.

Ryan V (Long Beach, CA): Please take some Clipper questions that no one seems to like to answer. Their chances in the post season and can Shaun Livingston (my favorite Clipper) be a superstar one day?

Ric Bucher: Shaun Livingston is a future all-NBA first teamer if he can stay healthy. What I don't like about the Clippers as a playoff team is that they lose focus regularly and have beaten teams with their vast talent. The postseason is all about execution on each and every possession and playing smart. These playoffs are going to be a great, but brief, learning experience for LAC.

See the Ric Bucher chat Insider



Elias Says
allen

Kevin Garnett was on the sideline Sunday, ending his streak of 351 consecutive games started for Minnesota. Garnett's streak of starts was the longest by any player for one team since John Stockton started the final 442 regular-season games of his career for Utah (1997 to 2003). And incidentally, on the same day that Garnett's streak ended, Bruce Bowen started his 349th consecutive regular-season game for San Antonio.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider



Eyeing The Free Agent Class
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When summertime comes and the Detroit Pistons and Ben Wallace sit down to discuss a new contract, Big Ben won't have his longtime agent working on his behalf.

Wallace fired the agent, Steve Kaufman, a few months ago and plans to replace him with an attorney who will bill him on an hourly basis.

If he wants a trade kicker in his deal, Wallace had better hope his new attorney knows how to get one. If he wants bonus payments for making the All-Star team, winning the NBA championship or being named Defensive Player of the Year, that new lawyer had better be proficient in the collective bargaining agreement language pertaining to bonuses he is likely or unlikely to earn.

Normally, an agent would take care of those types of details -- as well as playing the Pistons off any other potential suitors.

But the fact that Wallace will be going the cheap route in the biggest negotiation of his career is the surest sign of all that he's dead set on staying with the Pistons when he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Read the entire Chris Sheridan column Insider



 

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